March 13, 2016
As I was preparing this sermon earlier in the week, the following came across my computer screen¦ 15 million Americans threatened with rare, severe storm. By 3:30 a.m. ET, a severe thunderstorm watch was in effect for a 350-mile-long chunk of Texas, threatening "very large hail," wind gusts of 70 mph, and "a tornado or two," the National Weather Service said. As the storm was set to increase, most of Texas, including Austin, Dallas, and Houston, as well as most of Oklahoma and small parts of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, were expected to be under threat of severe thunderstorms through Tuesday, according to The Weather Channel. According to NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins, the storm is rare because it is being fueled by the jet stream dipping unusually low. "A strong jet stream rarely dips all the way into Mexico in March, or anytime, but that is exactly what is happening today," he said.
Rare storms, as well as the frequency and intensity of storms, have been on the increase in the last few decades. Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, hailstorms, and the like have been responsible for more lives, and more damage, than ever before. And as anyone living in Coal City will tell you, it isn't just 'elsewhere'.
God speaks to us in many ways. And I do believe this is one of them. In the Bible, God's voice is often depicted as thunder, or, alternately, when thunder occurs, it is God speaking. Sometimes, this incites fear. We read in Exodus 20:18-19, "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'" Now, we all should have what I call a 'healthy fear' of the God, which is a reverence for His power and holiness - something that is lacking in today's society. But as I will get to shortly, we need not fear His judgment if we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
But at other times it is to confirm the Lord's Word and His Will, as in when Jesus was speaking with some of his disciples, and some Greeks that wanted to meet Him. We read in John 12:27-30, (Jesus said) "Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name. Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, 'I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again'. When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him. Then Jesus told them, 'The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out'."
And I have shared with the congregation before that when the Lord audibly called my name twice back on May 7, 2010, it was during a very loud thunderstorm. And that is what started me down the road that led to me being in the pulpit today.
But sometimes storms are indeed intended as judgment from God. The 7th plague that God sent on the land of Egypt when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go is recorded in Exodus 9:17-26. Here we read, (Moses said to Pharaoh) "'But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go. So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt. Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields to find shelter. Any person or animal left outside will die when the hail falls.' Some of Pharaoh's officials were afraid because of what the LORD had said. They quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. But those who paid no attention to the word of the LORD left theirs out in the open. Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Lift your hand toward the sky so hail may fall on the people, the livestock, and all the plants throughout the land of Egypt.' So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed toward the earth. The LORD sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt. Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that, with such devastating hail and continuous lightning. It left all of Egypt in ruins. The hail struck down everything in the open field - people, animals, and plants alike. Even the trees were destroyed. The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived." I would like to read that last sentence again. "The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived. Compare that to the worst storm the world has ever seen since the beginning of creation, commonly known as The Flood, which we read in Genesis 6:5-8 came when "The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, 'I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created”and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground, for I regret that I have made them.' But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." Again, let me repeat the last line. "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." And we all know that the Lord spared Noah and his family, because he believed God, because he heeded God's Word, and was obedient by building an ark. The same pattern happened when the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gemorrah, but sent angels to lead Lot and his family out of the city first (Genesis 19). What is the point I am trying to make here? Simply that when God sends judgment upon the wicked, He spares those who are faithful, and who love Him more than they love the world and its wicked ways.
So to get back to my opening about the recent increase in storms and in their intensity¦ There are many modern Bible scholars that truly believe we are in what the Bible calls, 'the days of Noah', the days leading up to a 7 year period known as The Great Tribulation. For Jesus Himself said (Luke 17:26-27), "And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." Many Christians today are worried that when God sends plagues once again during this time, that they will also have to endure God's wrath. But if our hearts belong to the Lord Jesus, we do NOT have to fear! He will spare us, as He spared the Israelites, and as He spared Noah and His family. The Apostle Paul even reassures us in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 that, "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
And what about the storms that arise in our daily lives? If God is powerful enough to deliver us from the worldwide storms, why should we doubt (as the disciples did in our Gospel reading - Luke 8:22-25)) that He can, and will, deliver us from our personal storms? When we lose a job, or receive an unwelcome medical diagnosis, or any other sort of trial that may come our way, we need only look to Jesus. If we are struggling in our faith, we can cry out as the disciples did, "Master, Master, we are going to drown!" God will not abandon you because your faith is weak. He will calm your storm, because He loves you! He will answer your prayers if you would only come to Him, admit your doubts, and pray for that miracle in your life. Then watch and see - just as Moses told the Israelites whose faith wavered yet again when they were caught between Pharaoh's armies and the Red Sea, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today." Amen.